Highland Council’s predicted budget overspend for this year has been slashed by almost half – but new chief executive Donna Manson says there’s to be no slacking off in the drive to balance the books.
Next week’s corporate resources committee meeting will be told that based on current trends, an overspend of £2.2million is forecast, a significant improvement from the £5.1m predicted at the end of last quarter.
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Any overspend would have to be funded from the council’s dangerously low reserves of £8.5m, well below Audit Scotland’s suggested minimum level.
Mrs Manson said: “We have made good progress in the right direction. However, we have a long way to go and there is the risk of the costs of a severe winter ahead of us.
“We therefore still need to take further corrective action to ensure we are in the best possible financial position to move forward on a stable footing into next year.”
Mrs Manson has ordered extra recruitment controls as a short term measure, with jobs only advertised if deemed essential.
She has also instructed a freeze on non-essential spend until the end of the financial year.
One of the biggest budget pressures lies in the Care and Learning Service, where an overspend of almost £1m in looked-after children services is predicted for the end of the year, an improvement on the £2.7m predicted last quarter.
Meanwhile the council’s month of budget engagement activity is well underway.
Mrs Manson and members of the budget team have been out and about, meeting staff, groups and communities across the Highlands this month.
The council will also be holding Facebook chats on November 20 and 27, and has had hundreds of responses online about income generation.
Budget Leader councillor Alister Mackinnon said: “It is vital that we understand what is important to communities to help us make the right decisions as we plan ahead for the next three years.
“We are working with staff to identify all opportunities for efficiencies. Income generation is also a fundamental part of our strategy to protect essential services. Our focus will be on directing our reducing resources to those areas which will deliver the best outcomes and provide value for money. This is your council and your future.”